One thing you notice when you move countries from Australia/New Zealand is how different the cultural references can be back home compared to your new abode. This week marks the 7th annual Down Under Berlin, a festival that since 2011 has bought poetic, visually stunning images, a distinct quirkiness, dark humour and authentic storytelling to Germany. I spoke to Founder, Frances Hill to find out more.

Frances comes from Sydney’s Northern Beaches and fell for a Berlin during a 1 week New Year’s Eve stay in 2001. She decided to return to undertake postgraduate study in Frankfurt an der Oder in 2006 and has been here ever since.

Frances was working at Moviemento Kino in Berlin and came up with the idea for the festival. The first festival featured 14 films. The latest has 37 films, 15 of which are getting their German premiere at the festival. Films encompass genres such as comedy, action and horror and short films also feature.

I asked Frances what most people thought out when they thought of Aus/Kiwi films and she answered:

“Crocodile Dundee, The Piano, Lord of the Rings…People do see the fish out of water tale in Crocodile Dundee and the indigenous stories on the other side and the danger of the bush and nature and all this dark stuff, and a lot of crime stories.  Those clinches just pop into people’s heads. Nature plays a big part, even in films like Lantana where it just sort of pushes in”.

I have fond memories myself of watching Wolf Creek2 in Leipzig, dubbed in Deutsch.

She notes that directors such as Baz Luhrmann – Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo and Juliet (1996),  Moulin Rouge (2001)– and Taika Waitit (Boy (2010), What We Do in the Shadows (2014)  Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) are also  recognised outside of Australia and New Zealand.

I was curious to know if there are any films that Frances wouldn’t screen in Europe. She noted that “Something that people at home get might be culturally specific. The humour of every country is a little bit special and something like Three Wise Cousins or The Magician might not suit audiences outside Australia, New Zealand. I sometimes show films to my native German friends and see, do they get that, do they like it?”.

Films and documentaries are selected through a call out on the Down Under Berlin website, via FilmFreeway. They receive a good range of University graduation and final project films. They also look at what Aus/NZ films are out back home or in the US and might suit, for example, the festival’s opening night film Jasper Jones, is no longer in cinemas in Australia but hasn’t reached German screens.

Berlin is a great place for ambitious creatives

Like many Aussie and Kiwi expats Frances sees Berlin as a place for making projects happen as she explained:

“Berlin is a great space as you probably already have your audience or your target group here. Every taste, fashion, idealism is here. Whatever you want to do, you find people who are like-minded or ok with working with you on a project and not getting paid in the first place”.

The film festival is primarily staffed by a small team and volunteers and falls under a charity established by the team Down Under Berlin e.V which means they can receive tax deductible charitable donations. It receives some support from local embassies in Berlin and donations in kind as well as selling advertising in the program.

Frances notes that “Back home there’s a lot talk about the institutionalisation of art and culture. People get discouraged for not getting grants or funding. People who come here to Berlin come with that drive, you can do anything and be anyone in Berlin. That’s what made me motivated to do this, if they can do this then I can do this and give it a go.

Not that life is all plain sailing in Berlin. Germany is a country renowned for its bureaucracy. Frances advises that anyone who wants to do business in Berlin, really needs to learn Deutsch

“Language is one thing, definitely look at learning a language before moving to any city. With the business stuff, it’s important to understand the language to be able to understand things yourself and not have to ask locals all the time. You also need to figure out what is the legal basis of what you are doing. If you have to reply on your own bank account you probably could run into trouble, there are always liabilities to be aware of”.

Down Under Berlin film festival is running up until September 17. Check out the website for information on the films and documentaries selected and how to submit your own film.